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Diary of a Cultural Gardener - November 2019

A new monthly update from our Cultural Gardener, Katy Merrington.

It won’t have gone unnoticed that November has been an extremely rainy month. According to the Met Office this part of Britain has received 75% more rain than would typically be expected. We are fortunate that the garden sits significantly higher than the nearby river Calder and so we didn’t suffer any of the devastating flooding that people in nearbv areas of South Yorkshire had to contend with.

It has been a challenging month. The wet weather delayed the remaining bulb planting, which we started in October, as not only could we not work with the soil or do any planting while it was raining, we also had to wait a couple of days after torrential downpours for it to dry out enough to be worked with. Our site soil is a mix of clay and silt loam and has a naturally sticky consistency which re-binds together easily when wet and the topsoil in the three biggest beds needed to be hand-dug over before the bulbs could go in.

However, myself and our wonderful garden volunteers were able to forge ahead with vigour on the drier days and there is nothing like a repetitive task for generating interesting conversation and camaraderie. It was a great pleasure to put the very last of over 9000 bulbs into the ground and I like to picture them snug in the soil slowly putting on roots and shoots ready to emerge in the spring.

The garden experienced its first proper frosts during the past month and the herbaceous plants have started to turn to their winter colours of golden browns, coppers and inky blacks. We leave the dry vegetative material in place as long as possible for its beautiful winter interest and to provide homes for insects. We will start to cut it back in February, ready for new shoots to emerge.

I am used to working in gardens where robins flit around your feet and there is a constant chatter of bird calls. When I arrived at The Hepworth last May the garden was still a building site and so of course there was no bird song to speak of and also very few worms in the soil. It has been magical watching how quickly this situation is changing. We now have a resident male blackbird who hangs out in the hedges and is very territorial, clucking away and dashing out from the hedges when you least expect it. In the morning, wagtails dart about bobbing their elegant tail feathers. The foundation of all good gardens is the soil and it is a major joy to me to find ever increasing numbers of worms.

The days are now very short and the sun is so low in the sky that for a few weeks each year, the garden sits in the shadow of Rutland Mills, to its South side. There is a wonderful moment that occurs on sunny days at approximately 2.30pm when the light reflects from one of the high-up gallery windows and just by chance, the bright rays shine down like a spotlight and precisely illuminate one of our garden sculptures, Barbara Hepworth’s Gloria (Ascending Form). It’s a reminder to me that we are not far from the solstice now and it won’t be long until the days start to get longer and the sunshine returns.

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